It isn't just about Washington DC. While people are focused on the swamp of corruption in DC, there are indications at the local level that show us so much about how our culture and government are devolving. Yes, we see the huge scandals at the top, but if you look at your own local government, you'll find things are just as bad....maybe on a smaller scale, but just as bad.
We, my husband and I, went to our County Commissioner's (open to the public) budget meeting last night. Well, we tried to go. When we got there, the parking lot was slammed so we parked across the street. We raced into the building and stopped to go through the security check where my purse and my husband's pockets were searched. Then we headed upstairs to the televised conference room and found the courthouse had to use two overflow rooms with tv screens to accommodate the crowd. The two overflow rooms were already full with no more room for seats. The back wall in the main room was lined with police officers. People were sitting out in the hallway with perplexed looks on their faces, wondering what to do. We turned around, went back to our car, and came home to watch the meeting on television.
So why the crowd? The pre-publicity from the County Manager was that the County was going to increase property taxes. Our County already has the sixth highest property taxes in the State of North Carolina. My expectation was that all or most of those people were cramming the courthouse to speak because they were going to object to more taxes. Boy, was I in for a surprise!
At one point, during our breathless race to get in to this meeting, we were passed by one of the wealthier Republican big shots in town, dressed in a suit and acting as if he had a mission of great importance. He is an elderly fellow who has made a fortune in business here, but has turned into a philanthropist. He was given the nod and managed to get right in to the main room, while the rest of the masses were not given that kind of grace. He didn't have to go through the same protocol as everyone else by signing up to speak. He just walked in and everyone got out of the way. When he got up to the mic to speak, he was shocked to find out he only had 3 minutes like everyone else. It looked as if he thought he could speak at will for as long as he wanted. His speech was encouraging the Commissioners to pay their bills, raise taxes to do it, and by all means fund the schools with whatever necessary. Mind you, this fellow has buckets of money. Raising the tax rate is not going to hurt him much, if at all. As for Republican small government...hardly on his mind.
It turns out that every county employee was asked by their bosses to go to this budget meeting and plead for more money. Out of an hour and a half worth of speakers who were given three minutes each to plead their case, only four (4) people were there to speak for NOT RAISING the taxes. The bureaucracy had packed the meeting. It was like an army of Oliver Twists showing up begging, "Please Sir, may I have some more??" The majority of the speakers were from the County school system. I wish you could have heard the teachers and principals. Not one of them had a word to say about more education materials for the students. Every one of them was pleading for a salary increase for themselves. There was one person who spoke about deplorable conditions of some schools that need structural repairs and maintenance. But even that person was interested in having her salary increased. And mind you, this County voted to borrow bonds for schools not that long ago. The bonds are for capitol projects, not salaries. After the bonds passed, the County built a new high school that is a Taj Mahal high school, replete with all of the supposed "green" amenities. I wondered about the priority, or lack thereof, for those older schools that need the repairs. So far they haven't gotten the money. BUT, we have a shiny new thingy to show off to visiting dignitaries, whoever they might be.
It wasn't just about the schools. It was about fraud investigators for the welfare department. It was about the libraries and the museums. It was about the Sheriff's department. It was about some non-profit who lives off of government programs. It was about more more more. Please give us more!!
An aside: One in five people in our county is on food stamps. The jobs went off shore with the textile and furniture industries. What's left of the tax paying population is carrying the entire burden.